Two Electronic Messages


One of them is just a wordless diagram and the other a short set of words and numbers, but both convey valuable information.

The diagram is someone’s rendition of a side view of an automobile engine. One must look carefully at the dashboard to see what it is. This is the “check engine light” in the car; those words may also be present, but often not. This is an alert message that something in the automobile’s engine is not functioning correctly. Potentially helpful, it lacks specifics. It does not tell you what is not functioning well, simply that the car’s computers deduce a problem. Frustrating to some drivers (including me), the driver may be unsure how urgent the problem is. Do I need to stop driving immediately? Drive straight to a repair shop? Drive no more than five hundred miles before having it reviewed? Give me some help here.

That help is going to come in the form of a mechanic or two who can look objectively at my car and counsel me as to the problem and the possible remedies.

Not too big a leap is to suggest that our spiritual lives have “check engine lights” that alert us to a small or large misfire occurring. Among the mysteries as to the mode of action of the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to me to suspect that those nudges or taps I am feeling spiritually are God’s way of telling me to do an analysis of my words or behavior. That analysis will likely come from a trusted friend or two who can see me much more clearly than I can see myself.

There is a parallel message from the “time-date” stamp appearing on many videos and single photographs. They are not always present, but I have found them to be quite helpful as well as interesting. From a personal perspective, these can be fun and nostalgic triggers of notable events or people. They do in many cases, however, force us into a history that we realize is gone. Once we existed at that previous time, but now we must deal with matters as they are right now.

Our memory is a fascinating thing, is it not? Stored away in multiple bundles of brain neurons are images of places and people, sounds, odors, textures. They sit there unnoticed for perhaps years and then a random sight, sound, or odor calls them up to our consciousness and they are bright and clear once again, just like at the beginning. We may not remember exactly where or when, but we have what amounts to a spiritual “time-date” stamp somewhere in our heart. It also brings to us a realization that what is in the past has, in fact, passed.

In a way similar to the check engine light, we are faced with dealing with life as it exists in this very minute. The time-date stamp on our hearts is important; if nothing else, it was part of making us who we are today. I must keep telling myself, however, that I am a different person now—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The time-date stamps in my life remind me of who I used to be but do not inform me clearly of who I am today.

My blessings and problems today are different than when those pictures were taken. Those people in our memory pictures and those events shown were often times of great joy. As the time-date stamp shows, however, those were at a specific time and place. Seeing the pictures now may bring some sadness because of people or situations missing today. We may even be reminded of decisions we made then that we would not make now. 

Both the spiritual check engine light and time-date stamp are pointers to pay attention to today and tomorrow rather than dwell on yesterday. I need to act based on what I know now, what my skills are now, and what I see as the context now. I have permission from God to turn the page and let each new day allow an opportunity to act and love based on my present knowledge, skills, and context. 

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain


  • Peggy Gunn Lively

    I agree things change & context change but the word of the Lord doesn’t change & our challenge is not to conform to the world because the context changes. P


  • Thank you for this reminder, Mr. Nichols. God’s mercies are new every morning. This is exactly what I needed to read today.


  • I am thankful that I have grown spiritually over the years of my life. I also thank God for giving us wisdom to recognize our needs for change.


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